Clash of culture in the Western world
Wed, 11 Jul 2012 3:03p.m.
Opinion by Sanele Chadwick
I don’t envy Pita Sharples’ job one bit.
He’s a man who’s tasked with ‘moving Maori forward’ in a political environment dominated by non-Maori. He’s up against it, and the latest Government issue of who owns the rivers and waterways has only highlighted that.
Prime Minister John Key’s comments on how he could simply ignore the Waitangi Tribunal’s findings have come as a slap in the face for Maori. These are real people with real issues who are following the right procedures to have their voices heard, only to be told that the Government may ignore them regardless.
Criticism for the Maori Party has been swift, and their failure to attend the first two days of the Tribunal in Wellington wouldn’t have helped their cause. Dr Sharples seemed caught off guard on when asked on Firstline this morning why he hadn’t attended the Tribunal. Turns out he was in Whangarei, but was quick to point out he’d be there today.
This is where the Maori Party finds themselves in a difficult situation; they are torn between fulfilling their obligations towards the Maori community, and their coalition agreement with the National Party. Maori leaders have been quick to call on the Maori Party to severe ties with National following Mr Key’s comments, but what will that achieve?
Dr Sharples and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia would much rather be at the negotiating table than not – throwing stones from the other side of the room rarely works, and rarely sees positive change for any party. Sharples stresses the relationship between the Maori Party and National remains “excellent” despite Mr Key’s comments, and is quick to highlight the extra $1 million of funding the Government announced for the Maori trades’ scheme in Christchurch.
But boy, what a tough job Dr Sharples and Ms Turia have; in one ear they have white, middle class New Zealanders who are fearful of Maori owning ‘their’ rivers and waterways, and in the other they have Maori leaders calling for the Party to cut ties with National immediately. But again, what will that achieve?
Dr Sharples is stuck between a rock and a hard place - between his cultural obligation and his Government obligation - and it’s for that reason I don’t envy his job one bit. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Maori and Pacific Islanders need to understand the complexity of being a Polynesian politician in the Western world. They need to understand there is a game to play, a game of politics, a game which isn’t won with a rash move to leave Government based on a loose comment. It’s a long, hard slog - one that will continue well beyond when the issue of who owns what is resolved.
Earlier this year Pacific Profile spoke to the organisers of ‘Advance Pasifika’ and asked why they felt the need to march at Albert Park in Auckland. One of the questions I put to them was whether they felt Pacific politicians were doing enough for Pacific people. The answer was “yes and no”, followed by a long pause. That pause was the acknowledgements of the internal conflict Polynesian politicians go through when making decisions that affect their people. What their culture says is right doesn’t always marry with what the Government wants to do.
Pacific languages are important to Pacific people, but the Government won’t fund Pacific bilingual schools. Pacific education achievement continues to be the worst among ethnic groups in New Zealand, along with Maori, despite the 2012 Education Review Office reporting the Government needs to do more.
So, can you crucify Pacific MP’s in Government like Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga for not taking a stronger stand on Pacific issues? For not making mainstream society aware of the issues that Pacific people face? I don’t’ know, but one thing is for sure - Peseta has to play the same game as the Maori Party – politics. And to make changes for your people, you need to be in power - just ask David Shearer.
The Maori Party will be angry, so too their supporters and rightfully so. Mr Key shouldn’t have made those comments, but he did, and he probably regrets making them now.
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